Mary Lambert is something of an overnight success story. The 24 year-old singer-songwriter burst onto the mainstream music scene after lending her vocal talents to Macklmore and Ryan Lewis’s wildly popular, and LGBT positive track "Same Love."
Previously better known as a spoken word artist in her native Seattle, Lambert’s writing tackles a plethora of issues -- from body image problems, to abuse, to sadness and depression. Ultimately, she refuses to shy away from the darker and more complex side of life, tackling it all head on, with an often frank, and unabashed honesty.
EDGE caught up with Lambert ahead of the release of her solo track "She Keeps Me Warm," to talk about her past, her writing, and her feelings regarding her newfound fame.
Lesbian singer/songwriter kick
EDGE: So lets start with a little background, when and how did you discover your love of music?
Mary Lambert: Well I was singing as soon as I could talk! (Laughs) My mom was a singer- songwriter, and she was always playing piano, and I think I just really emulated a lot of that... and I just never really stopped!
EDGE: And you grew up in an evangelical family -- how has that shaped who you are today, and has it had a big impact on your music?
Mary Lambert: Well I was raised Pentecostal, and that was during the early time of my life, my formative years I guess. I don’t know if that upbringing affected me musically -- perhaps the only issue was I wasn’t allowed to listen to pop music at all. But then we actually got ostracized from the church, because my mom came out as gay. And after that she kind of went on a massive Tracy Chapmen, Indigo Girls, lesbian singer/songwriter kick! So that definitely had a big influence on me musically.
Working with Macklemore
EDGE: You’re also a spoken word artist, what is it about that medium that you find so accessible?
Mary Lambert: I love spoken word so much! I like it because it is, in a sense, a departure from music for me. It allows me to say something in a more explicit way than music does -- for example, if something is fucked up, I don’t necessarily want to make it beautiful through music -- and for me, music is all about beauty. I have to make my music beautiful, so I can’t always say the darker stuff... so I think spoken word is a much more accessible, and honest medium for that.
EDGE: What other common themes inspire and motivate your work in general? I notice that there is a lot of darkness and sadness, but also a beauty in the need to recognize human empathy and compassion.
Mary Lambert: Yeah, I think that I grew up really depressed, so a lot of my writing has some darkness in it. To be honest, I think I have an innate sadness -- and I think that I am able to tap into these darker places through my work. And I don’t think I am a bad person at all (Laughs)... I just think it has become a part of who I am. And I’m ok with expressing that. But I like to think that is just one part of me -- overall I am pretty happy person, you know! (Laughs)
EDGE: So how did the collaboration with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis on ’Same Love’ come about?
Mary Lambert: We had a musical friend in common (Hollis Wong-Wear), and she’s also a rapper and singer/songwriter. She is well known in Seattle, and she’s great at connecting people, and she’s always been really supportive of my work, and so she booked me for some shows and stuff like that. And then the opportunity with Macklemore came up, and she put my name forward. So I went in for a few hours to hear the track, and then we just went from there!
EDGE: You really have become huge overnight, which must be quite surreal!? What has been the highlight thus far?
Mary Lambert: Oh totally! I mean you dream as a little kid, and you have an idea of how you want your twenties to go, and I really wanted it, but I was also cautious and pragmatic. I realized that a lot of people don’t make it! And you know, you work hard and you dream ahead, and you hope it will happen... and it actually did! And frankly I am just trying to keep up right now! (Laughs) but it’s been absolutely fantastic. I am so very happy and incredibly lucky.
EDGE: I think ’Same Love’ is a wonderful track, but as you may know, it has been somewhat controversial in the queer community. Some people feel that Macklemore is taking a lot of credit for producing the first ’gay friendly’ rap song, when there are numerous queer rap artists that are marginalized from the mainstream music scene. What would you say to that critique? And do you think it’s fair?
Mary Lambert: I think it’s silly really, because I refuse to get angry over things pertaining to progress. And, you know, ultimately, you can’t help who you are, and the situation you are born into, and for that reason, I think everyone should be able to speak up for equality. And that’s what Macklmore is doing -- and I think it’s ultimately an ally song; Macklemore is speaking up for allies.
EDGE: I think that’s a great point! And so moving on from Macklmore, you are going solo and releasing ’She Keeps Me Warm’ as its own track, can you tell us more about that?
Mary Lambert: So after we wrote the track, and ’Same Love’ got really popular, I was just shocked. And I was still doing my solo shows, and I was getting requests for it all the time, and I didn’t want to sing it a capella, or by itself, or to a track, and I wasn’t planning on recording it, because I didn’t want people thinking I was a one trick pony. I wanted to be ultimately known for my other work. But people really loved it! And I got so many requests to record it. It just went absolutely crazy -- people wanted it at their wedding, and people were illegally downloading it (Laughs) So I was like, ’I’ve gotta record this,’ and it felt good, it felt like there was another side to ’Same Love.’ It was the opposite of the political side almost; it was a love song -- a love song that just happens to be gay.
Universal love song
EDGE: What was the inspiration behind that song?
Mary Lambert: Well it was about my girlfriend, for sure! For me, I was always worried about pronouns, because I didn’t want to alienate an audience. But by the time I came to ’Same Love,’ I just thought ’fuck it’ -- and the response has been great, it is on the Billboard top 20! I think that people don’t really care! And I think the song really is just a universal love song, despite it being gay.
EDGE: And what other tracks are you arguably most proud of?
Mary Lambert: I have song/poem called ’Body Love’ -- and I probably get contacted about that even more than ’Same Love.’ And it’s about body image, about self-love, and about self- harm, and a lot of other topics too actually. It was written to 19 year old me, and I think a lot of young women in their teens and twenties are kind of going through a terrible pressure, and cycle of bad energy regarding body image.
There is such a pressure on women to look and be a certain way, and it sadly means that there are many young women in rehab for self-harm and eating disorders and stuff like that... and so I want women to learn to love themselves. I think it’s really important to spread that message. And I like to think the poem can help, or has helped women in some way. I like reaching out artistically like that.
EDGE: After ’she keeps me warm,’ what’s next for you?
Mary Lambert: I have plans to record a music video, and then hopefully I’ll go on tour and keep performing -- everything is kind of up in the air after that, but I am really excited, and I’m just going to keep writing and see what happens!
For more on Mary Lambert, visit her website.
From our media partner EDGE